Meet Tony Giles, AKA Tony the Traveller, an English man who has travelled solo to 125 countries over the last 17 years. While that's impressive by itself, what makes Tony so inspiring is that he’s also blind and deaf.
Tony is totally blind and 80% deaf in both ears but thanks to hearing aids, a can-do attitude and an unbreakable traveller’s spirit, he’s journeyed to all seven continents, fifty US states, every South American country, the Arctic Circle and all of Canada’s provinces. Tony had always felt the urge to travel and decided from a young age that his physical disabilities weren’t going to hold him back.
Losing his sight at 10, Tony started navigating the world solo as a teenager while travelling by train to school everyday and that’s what inspired him to set the “biggest challenge possible for a blind person”; visiting every country in the world. Already at 125, as you can see there’s nothing to stop him making that dream a reality.
His first solo venture was to America’s bustling New Orleans where Tony admits he “froze” at first, but then took a deep breath and decided he was doing this or going home. And continue he did, never stopping and visiting a new country every year since.
“I breathed deeply and told myself to go on. I spent eight or nine days there exploring and drinking. After that I travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam in a five-month trip in 2001-02.” – Tony, The Independent UK
His wealth of travel experiences are just like anyone else’s; he’s felt the sunrise over mountains in far flung places, shot an AK-47 in Nevada and braved the Wad Rum in the desert to get to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Tony even got arrested crossing the Ethiopian border once, which while maybe not a highlight, is the perfect example of how off-road his travels have gone.
Can anything keep him from globe-trotting?! Nope. Not content to just stick to tourist-friendly destinations, Tony has experienced much of Africa and Asia solo, before meeting his now-wife, Tatiana, in Greece.
Tony says people are generally helpful no matter where in the world he is, including non-English speaking locations, and since he walks with the aid of a cane, locals are aware of his blindness and will either stop to help if they think he needs it or he has a question. However he needs to get where he’s going, he just does it.
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“I go by plane, train, bus and boat and I even travelled, for a short distance, by a donkey-pulled cart in north Senegal.” – Tony, The Independent UK
Travelling is obviously Tony’s greatest love and he credits it for showing him a whole new world where having a disability doesn’t limit or define you. He tells Lonely Planet “Travelling has taught me a greater awareness of the world, my fellow travellers, myself, humility, to share more, to respect myself and other people more, patience, which is the real skill to travelling, and many other components. I’ve become a better person, or maybe a more open person. I’m so lucky to visit different countries and discover different cultures, using all of my body’s senses, taste, smell, touch, hearing, my skin, feet to detect changes in terrain, gradients and surfaces. My blindness has allowed me to gain a different picture of the world. It enables me to judge people by voice and their personality, rather than their appearance, skin colour or disability.”
Tony has written a few books about his adventures and recently joined the BBC Travel Show with his own mini-documentary that you can check out below to hear from Tony himself and learn more about how he navigates the world.